Our Motivations - Dan Pink - Inventables on Friday

Every Friday at Inventables is a free for all. Employees do whatever they want to do. Whatever they think is most important.

Ask yourself, is this Crazy? or Obvious?

Dan Pink gave an interesting TED Talk about the surprising science of motivation. The summary is that through a number of social psychology experiments he has boiled down what motivates a worker taking on tasks where there is more than one answer to three things.

Autonomy - Mastery - Purpose

At Inventables his findings were not so surprising. We haven't used those 3 words before but we've set up our company to benefit from this kind of approach for many years. In 2002 when we were just starting out and had very little money we established an $1200 exploration budget for every employee. The only rule surrounding the budget was the money was earmarked for exploration. There were no approvals required, no expectations of ROI, no timeframes. Each employee was given that money, trust, and autonomy to go explore. Companies that apply Dan Pink's ideas get this kind of approach, where a traditional company finds this frightening.

In 2008 when we shifted from a service based company to a company focused on building a web application we introduced a program called Free Point Friday. This program allows every employee to work on whatever they think is most important every Friday - no questions asked. We practice agile software development where a point is a relative, team-specific measure of effort to complete a feature story. We base our points on complexity rather than time. Free Point Friday has no accountability, no expected deliverables, and you don't even need to come to the office. Here are a few example projects people have done:

Free Point Project #1: Police Sirens that go off when a vendor buys a lead on our website
Free Point Project #2: Oneth1ng.net - A free web app to help team members focus on the 1 most important thing they will accomplish each day. We use this as a digital version of our 15 minute morning stand-up meeting.

Free Point Project #3: A "You might also like" feature that uses machine learning to get smarter the more our website is used. This feature increased sales leads being sent to vendors by 50%.

More on our thinking behind Free Point Friday in a minute, if you aren't familiar with Dan's TED talk, take a break from reading this point and watch it here:

We named it Free Point Friday because it happens EVERY FRIDAY. This isn't a concept we are giving lip service and this isn't a program that gets routinely cancelled because of other "urgent" work. We believe this is urgent. For some employees it actually takes a little getting used to and for the first few Fridays they work on what they were working on Monday-Thursday. As CEO I need to remind them it's Free Point Friday. If you've never worked in an environment like this you might feel a sense of guilt in the beginning, like you're doing something wrong. We believe you're doing something right and here's why.

As the CEO I'm very careful to hire people that are honest, trustworthy, share our values, and believe in what we're doing. I then give them tons of autonomy and time to become a master of their domain. You see we're on a mission to change the course of the world. We believe product innovation comes from lots of exploration and experimentation. We believe if more engineers explored what’s possible rather than going with the status quo, we’d have more companies like Apple, Google, and Boston Scientific giving birth to new products that improve people’s lives. If we succeed our new materials marketplace will change the world forever, not only because it’s more efficient, but because people will believe they can find new and better solutions to their problems they didn’t realize existed.

When that resonates with people, when they too believe that it's important to explore what's possible, then we have someone that is a candidate to join our company. When they do it's no problem to give them tons of autonomy. It's no problem because they will do more with that autonomy than if I told them what to do! You can't inspire someone by telling them do it this way. I'm inspiring them by coalescing our purpose into 3 powerful words that are changing the world - Explore What's Possible. This comes out in everything we do and shapes our product, excites our customers, and of course attracts our employees.

From what I can tell most companies are giving the concepts Dan Pink explains lip service, some are tip toeing in, but we are living it. At Inventables this kind of culture actually works. Monday - Thursday tends to produce incremental improvements on what we already have and typically Friday is where disruptive ideas and features are born.

I believe there is no better place to work in the city of Chicago. Think about it, what other company gives you 50 days a year to do whatever you want?


Zach Kaplan said…
More on this topic from Jeff Talbot who leads or technology team on Developmentables our tech teams blog - http://developmentables.com/post/641182720/what-motivates-us-at-inventables
Aarlo said…
That was a great post. I really like the philosophy you describe. Thanks!

Unknown said…
Awesome post, Zach! We're changing up how we're working at Fuzzy Math because we never find time to do the things we're most interested in doing, when the normal work week keeps us all busy on client work.

Something like this is a great way for us to move those things back onto the to do list. Thanks for the inspiration.

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